Love Like The Movies: In The Mood For Love (2000)

How have movies shaped modern culture in our pursuit of love? Why have some films left such an impact that audiences go back to it across cultures and eras? Is there anything we can learn from movie love or is it the idealized dream of hopeless romantics? Before The Cyborgs will attempt to answer some of these questions in Love Like The Movies – a month-long exploration of love, romance, and film.

“He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.”

Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love gets its English title from a Brian Ferry song of the same name, a very fitting title for a film that captures not the act of being in love but being in the mood for love. The difference between the two (much like the film itself) is subtle but layered as Kar-Wai explores the feeling of longing, loneliness and the fleeting yet lingering feeling of love.

Set in 1960s Hong Kong, a socially and politically conservative location, In The Mood is a look at how the social/political climate of the period influences how our two leads (Tony Leung’s Chow and Maggie Cheung’s Su) navigate their complex relationship. To the outside world they are but neighbors who engage only in matters of simple favors and business inquiries (an illusion that they themselves force themselves to believe) but beneath that layer lies a simmering romance that much like a raging fire can only be safely felt from a distance not grasped completely by hand.

It is a setup that allows for a wonderful dynamic between the two, Neither will admit to being in love for that would make them as bad as their spouses, (who ironically have had their own suspected infidelity with one another) instead operating in secret, in code that is carefully constructed to elude suspicion from the community. In choosing such a covert approach the two are able to carefully release their surpassed emotions in small doses that don’t cross the boundary into an affair (ie sex) – for neither is in love but rather in the mood for love – for someone to fill the emotional gaps left by their unseen spouses.

Kar-Wai is not interested in the act of an affair itself, every notable character in this film engages in some form of infidelity, Su’s boss has a mistress, Chow’s friend is a regular at the local brothel, Su and Chow have an emotional affair (their spouses perhaps more). Instead, it is the inherent darkness within people, the face behind the mask of neatly done hair or fancy suits that is interesting. That’s not to say that everyone in Hong Kong cheats or everyone is inherently evil, just that beneath the pristine images we present to the world lies a deeper self that carries with it, our vulnerabilities, insecurities, secrets and other repressed emotions. 

Much like his other films (Chungking Express, 2046, Happy Together etc) Kar Wai is able to examine the feeling of the missed connection, the pain of feeling something but never having it. His characters especially here ooze sexuality without the film being overtly sexual utilizing the cinematography, score, and subtlety of the scene to the fullest extent, like a brief tease into what could be that leaves you craving more. Because love is a brief visitor, fleeting if you don’t grasp it as it presents itself, its effects, however, remain potent, lingering in the recesses of our mind forever.

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